Supreme Court may decide new sentencing for Beltway sniper
Three juvenile killers with Whatcom County ties who were each given life sentences without the possibility of parole are expected to be resentenced soon. For two of them, it could mean a possible release from prison.
The high-profile case of Lee Boyd Malvo, one of two “DC Snipers” who lived in Bellingham before going on a murder spree in the suburbs of the nation’s capital during a three-week period in 2002, made headlines the past two weeks after a federal appeals court threw out his four life sentences. The ruling requires Malvo, who was 17 at the time of the killings, to be resentenced.
Malvo’s convictions still stand, but he’s able to seek a shorter sentence due to a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that made mandatory life sentences without parole unconstitutional for juveniles, saying it violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. In 2016, the court made the decision retroactive.
Like Malvo, Whatcom’s own teen killers, Ryan Alexander and Terence “Terry” Weaver, are also due for resentencings due to the high court ruling. Alexander used a massive, fatal dose of insulin to kill a young neighbor boy in 2002 and Weaver raped and killed a woman in 1996.
Both were convicted of aggravated first-degree murder and were sentenced to life without parole. Beginning in 1994 in Washington state, juveniles charged with aggravated murder were tried as adults and, if convicted, faced a mandatory sentence of life without parole. The death penalty couldn’t be sought for juveniles in Washington state, even if they were tried as adults.
Twenty five juvenile offenders were identified across the state for resentencing, but Alexander and Weaver are the only two in Whatcom County.The convictions for Alexander and Weaver, who were both 16 at the time of the respective murders, will stand. A judge could still sentence them to life without parole, but is no longer required.
Weaver’s case is currently in the mitigation stage, said public defense attorney Stephen Jackson.
“With any significant case where life without parole is on the table, you almost treat it like a death penalty case,” Jackson said. “You do mitigation, so you look into their whole life, what happened when they were 8, when they were a toddler, everything you could possibly think of that could potentially lead to a reason why a person at a very young age was ultimately convicted of committing a pretty horrendous crime,” Jackson said.
Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney Dave McEachran said these cases are critical to deal with, and his office plans to go over everything, including the men's records while in prison.
“Our whole role is to ensure safety and that’s what we will really try to do in bringing our arguments to court. I think the whole goal is just protecting the public,” McEachran said.
Both Weaver, 38, and Alexander, 32, are expected to be resentenced by the end of the year, McEachran said.
Weaver is currently serving his sentence at Monroe Correctional Complex, and Jackson said he doesn’t recall any significant infractions. Alexander is at the Washington State Penitentiary under close-custody supervision, meaning he has restricted movement throughout the prison.
Alexander’s public defense attorney couldn’t be reached for comment.
Shaking a sense of safety
Both Whatcom slayings left neighbors wondering about their safety.
“The idea that you could have someone that age, a youthful person do something like that, it really concerned everybody,” said McEachran, who tried Weaver’s case. “I remember the intensity of the feelings, and the way (the cases) really captured the attention of the public. These were close to home, they were not in New Jersey or Florida, it’s right here. I know when I talk to jurors and private citizens, these cases really stood out. They were just horrible, horrible cases.”
In 1996, Terry Weaver lived with his mother and stepfather in the Plaza Park trailer park on Birch Bay-Lynden Road. Weaver had moved from Arizona and had enrolled in Blaine High School that year. The family had been having problems in Arizona, where Weaver had two convictions for burglary and one for arson, and moved to get a fresh start, according to stories in The Bellingham Herald.
Kelli L. Scott, then 35, lived in a chalet-style home at 4411 Birch Bay-Lynden Road, across the road from the trailer park where Weaver lived. Scott had moved to the area from San Diego, and worked at the Inn at Semiahmoo for roughly 8 years. Friends and family described Scott as someone who made friends wherever she went. They said she grew sunflowers and other plants in her shady yard and loved operettas.
Scott’s home had been burglarized in December of 1995, and she had suspected Weaver. On Feb. 12, 1996, Weaver grabbed a steak knife and went to Scott’s house with the intent to rape and kill her, according to Herald archives. Weaver then raped and beat Scott before he strangled and stabbed her to death. A coworker found her the next morning after she didn’t show up for her shift.
Weaver went to school the next day with stains on his pants from Scott’s blood, and was arrested shortly after. Weaver’s arrest came after a string of other teens at Blaine High School were arrested for varying crimes, and Scott’s murder at the time was the second in the county in less than a week.
Weaver was convicted of aggravated first-degree murder and first-degree rape in Feb. 1997 after a one-day non-jury trial.
Nearly a decade later, in 2002, Ryan Alexander, then 16, was living in the Columbia neighborhood on Jaeger Street near 8-year-old Michael “Mikey” L. Busby Jr.
Busby, who was attending Columbia Elementary School, had recently moved with his family from Kent and lived in a well-maintained tan, one-story home at the corner of Jefferson and Jaeger streets, according to Herald archives. He was described as being well-liked, and would often go around asking the other neighborhood children to ride bikes with him.
Alexander was well-known to the neighborhood and police, who had held special meetings to discuss the teenager and his past problems, according to Herald archives. Alexander had been convicted in 1998 at age 12 of reckless burning when he tried to burn two houses down — one occupied, one unoccupied. He was also convicted of residential burglary in 1999 when he stole from his neighbor, and of third-degree theft in 2001 when he stole a classmate's cellphone.
On April 10, 2002, Alexander was convicted of two counts of theft and was sentenced to home detention, supervised by juvenile probation. Eight days later, Busby had gone on a class field trip to Maritime Heritage Park and wanted see the park a few blocks from his house. After the boy didn’t return home, his parents called police and a search started. During that time, Alexander’s mother called police saying her son wasn’t home, and neighbors had reported seeing Alexander with Busby, according to Herald archives.
Busby’s body was found the next day near the Pacific Concrete Industries plant at 2800 West St. by a woman walking her dog. Busby had been bound, choked, cut and murdered with a fatal injection of insulin.
Police arrested Alexander at Bellingham High School later that day. Alexander told police Busby had been “bugging him,” but that he didn’t plan to hurt the boy when he took him to a vacant lot near their houses, according to Herald archives.
Alexander was convicted for aggravated first-degree murder and kidnapping in March 2004 after a jury trial. In 2007, Busby’s family sued the county saying they could have done more to monitor Alexander while he was on probation, and they eventually settled the case for $500,000.
Rules don’t apply
Bellingham was brought into the national spotlight during the hunt for Malvo and his partner, John Allen Muhammad, then 41, when investigators discovered the pair lived in Bellingham for a few months in 2001 and 2002. While staying at the Lighthouse Mission, Malvo attended Bellingham High School and was taking college-level Advanced Placement classes.
Then-Bellingham High School principal Steve Clarke testified in Malvo’s defense at his trial in 2003 to help him avoid the death penalty, saying it was “a life lost.” Malvo is currently being held at Red Onion State Prison in Wise County, Virginia. Muhammad was sentenced to death and executed in 2009.
On June 29, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring appealed the ruling to resentence Malvo, arguing that the 2012 Supreme Court decision only applies to those juveniles who were sentenced under mandatory-sentencing guidelines, such as Weaver and Alexander. Herring argued Virginia doesn’t have a mandatory sentence of life without parole for homicides, and said he’ll seek the Supreme Court’s review for whether Malvo should get a new sentencing.